A grandfather teaches his granddaughter of nature's delicacy with a poem about sea otters.
The next morning, after another breakfast of pancakes and bacon, Gabby and her grandfather returned to the pond. The pond's glass-like surface reflected wisps of white cloud. “Look at Dudley,” Gabby giggled, “he's swimming on a cloud.”
Grandpa Daniels smiled and sat down on the bench. “Let's see, where did we leave off?” He would often ask her a question knowing the answer; this time he did not.
“The urchin barren, where Yelden warns Odin about the urchins taking over. Ugh, I hate them spiky critters!”
“Now, Gabby, we're all God's creatures.”
“Ugh,” she repeated and shrugged.
“To refresh our memory, let me repeat what Yelden said to Odin.” He shuffled through the pages until he found his starting place.
Yelden issued these commands:
“Grow your population and keep it strong
for the urchins will try to multiply
and infiltrate your bottom sands,
and devour the holdfasts that anchor the kelp.
In no time at all, without enough help,
the entire forest will come undone.
And the ocean floor that formed her shape,
that launched gold-leafed columns toward the sun,
it will be nothing more than a desertscape.
And for those creatures who rely on the kelp,
depend on her food and shelter for help
from the sunflower star to the great blue heron
all will be changed by the urchin barren.”
“Oh Captain! My Captain! with great care I'll lead.”
and saluting his friend, completely agreed
and never refrained in their days that remained
to thank the Olden for the knowledge he gained
so one winter day, the sky gloomy and gray
Yelden the Olden swam to the north
and taking a right round Washington State
entered into the Juan de Fuca Strait
with the experience of age,
the wizardly wisdom of a wise old sage
he soon led the otters in its cold, cold waters
and continued to do so for many a year
until as they say, until one day …
Odin the Otter stretched out on the water
wrapped in his canopy kelp
when Yelden the Olden popped up through the Golden
beseeching Odin for help —
“Hey, Grandpa, that's how it began!”
“Yes, but now we find out what Yelden needs.”
and even though Yelden had once been his mentor
he trembled before him like a leaf in winter
for he had traveled in haste, with no time to waste
and dire news to deliver
even Odin, on learning the truth
even Odin began to shiver
“I can't believe what I'm hearing!”
“It's true,” said Yelden, “my forest is disappearing!”
“But have you no otters in your northern waters?”
“Yes, we have some; well, a few; not enough to do.”
“How many is a few, how many is not enough to do?”
“Not enough,” said Yelden, “not enough at all.
Maybe twenty, maybe thirty
and everywhere purple urchins crawl!”
“Then go we must,” Odin stated firmly,
“to the Strait we must go!
And as we move north, our numbers will grow
until we number a hundred or so — ”
“Grandpa, do otters always rhyme?”
“Oh, yes, my child, yes they do. Not once in a blue moon, or while singing a tune, but almost all the time. It's true.”
“Then rhyme until you are through.”
Grandpa Daniels smiled and continued.
so our dear friend Odin with his good wife, Miah,
their son, Jedidiah, and the daughter of the otter, Jambaliah,
departed for the Juan de Fuca Strait
when five otter friends agreed to join in
the group numbered ten —
“I'm glad my name's not Jambaliah!” said Gabby.
“It's too long.”
“May I continue?” said the grandfather, pretending to be agitated.
“Hey, you said I could ask questions.”
“That wasn't a question.”
“If my name was Jambaliah, would it be too long?” Silence.
like an undersea ride that cut through the water
they moved up and down, otter after otter
with Yelden out front and Odin beside him
using their tails like rudders to guide them
and after traveling ten miles or so
Odin peered up through the sunlit waters
and noticed in a circle, the raft of otters
so he swam to the top along with the Olden
and after surfacing atop their Golden
Odin spoke up and several woke up
and these otters learned of their dire strait
of the help that they needed; how it could not wait
there were thirty in all
and, indeed, all agreed, the kelp must survive
but only half heeded the call
and so they were twenty-five
now all sorts enlisted to make life anew
Wally was the wisest and made sure you knew
they were young and old, both big and small
some were short; some were tall
Joey, the youngest, was shyest of all
but when Jed took him in, the pup felt safe then
“Jed seems like a very nice sea otter.”
“Yes, he is. That's how Odin and Miah raised him. Jambaliah, too.”
now five more times along the route
it happened this way, that is to say
a large raft of otters floating about
then Odin and the Olden up through their Golden
asking for help to revive the kelp
and when their asking was over and done
the otters numbered a hundred and one —
“Odin was right, Grandpa. They became a hundred.”
“I told you he was smart!”
to swim more freely and take faster flight
Yelden suggested a new path for all
they would move out beyond the forest wall
and with no dodging left, no dodging right,
the columns of kelp all around them,
the hundred otters who followed his lead
discovered a speed that did astound them
and for many a mile, the migration went well
as well as migration can go
then everything changed, utterly changed
in seconds, chaos turned the tale
Gabby shifted toward her grandfather to listen more intently.
with a twitch in his whiskers, Odin knew first
the burst of bluefin tuna that day
the hapless herring hurrying away
then nothing at all in the eerie light
until drifting toward them, not one great white
but two, and Odin knew they all needed help
so he hollered out, “Quick, back to the kelp!”
the frightened sea otters began to flee
and reaching the forest, turned to see
everyone home except for Joey —
Gabby quickly interrupted, “Grandpa, nothing happens to Joey ... right … he makes it back too?”
The grandfather paused, but had to continue.
he swam with great fury but the great white closed in
for their difference in speed was day and night
as a hundred otters cheered on the pup
the great white shark scooped Joey up
and drifted off into the eerie light
Gabby's eyes instantly teared up as she hit her grandfather's shoulder and stuttered, “Why did that have to happen to Joey! Why did that have to happen to Joey!”
“Now, Biscuit, we can't always control how nature ….” There was no reason to complete the sentence. Gabby was already stomping down the path for home. Grandpa Daniels spun around and hollered out her name, but she neither turned nor stopped walking.
His granddaughter had so many wonderful traits, but a few that proved challenging. When Gabby felt right about something, even though she might be wrong, she could turn stubborn as a mule. Grandpa Daniels considered that in this instance maybe she was not wrong, maybe his granddaughter had every right to be upset about Joey's fate. On the other hand, he had strong feelings against masking the laws of nature. Either way, he knew he had lost her. He shifted back around and gazed deep into the pond, helpless as a lost child.